(2007) Director/writer Sean Penn adapted Jon Krakauer's nonfiction account of an idealist's journey into the wild of Alaska. The soundtrack was composed by Michael Brook with original songs sung by Eddie Vedder. This story unfolds in four sections interwoven with flashbacks and commentary from Carine (Jena Malone), Chris's younger sister.
Following graduation from Emory University, having performed the "absurd tedious duty" his parents expected of him, Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) decides to forego Harvard law school - sending $24,000, the remainder of his college fund, to Oxfam - and seek "absolute freedom." Attempting to adhere to a "fiercely moral code" with "characteristic immoderation," rejecting materialism and money (after driving to Arizona near Lake Mead in July 1990 he abandons his Datsun and burns his cash because having money "makes people cautious"), Christopher rechristens himself Alexander Supertramp.
The immaterialistic literature of Henry David Thoreau, Jack Kerouac, Jack London, among others, has inspired him toward making this quest of spiritual revolution to "kill the false being within." In August he hitchhikes up to the Pacific Coast Trail in northern California where he gets a ride in an RV from two middle-aged hippies, Jan (Catherine Keener) and Rainey (Brian Dierker), struggling with their relationship (Jan's son from a previous marriage hasn't been in contact with her for two years), leaving them with a powerful impression and helpful words ("some people feel they don't deserve love").
Carine comments on the history of her and Chris's embattled childhood with an arrogant, controlling, careerist father, Walt (William Hurt), and combative mother, Billie (Marcia Gay Harden), "their calculating lies, ugly truths," in particular their "fraudulent marriage" (Billie was Walt's mistress when Chris was born) - the wrong woman with the wrong man - their fighting and threats of divorce, making the children both judges and the accused. Carine concludes, after Chris has made no attempt to communicate with her, that he was "trying not to be found," though unbeknownst to him after more than a year's absence the pain and guilt his parents suffer begins to draw them closer together. They hire a private investigator and alert law enforcement nationwide of their son's disappearance.
In September Alex makes his way over to South Dakota where he works in a grain elevator for Wayne Westerberg (Vince Vaughn) in whom he confides his determination "to get out of this sick society" with its judgments and control, its parents and politicians. Wayne is sympathetic but advises waiting until the spring and being better prepared to meet the challenges of the wild, such as learning how to butcher wild game. After Wayne gets arrested by the FBI for dealing in drugs (Alex will send him postcards to prison of his travels), he moves on to another adventure, kayaking down the Colorado River into Mexico.
Told by a forestry official after inquiring how best to begin his river-paddling venture that he'll need a permit and get on a twelve-year waiting list, Alex ignores the rules and plunges into the rapids. Avoiding patrols looking for him, he reaches the Sea of Cortez in December. Lacking identification documents, he nonetheless gets back across the border into California and hops a freight train to LA.
After being severely beaten by a railroad official, he makes his way to Slab City in the southern California desert near the Salton Sea where he's reunited with Jan and Rainey, whose love for each other has increased. Alex also meets Tracy (Kristen Stewart), a sixteen-year-old aspiring singer, who reminds him of his sister.
In March 1992, working out, training to increase his strength and endurance, camping near Oh-My-God Hot Springs where nudists and dopers hang out, Alex makes acquaintance with Ron Franz (Hal Holbrook), an elderly retired Army veteran, set in his ways, who lost his wife and son years ago in an automobile accident, whom Alex encourages to get back out into the world. After spending some time together during which Alex learns from Ron how to fashion a leather belt with icons of his travels depicted, Franz, who has taken a great liking to the young man, gives Alex hunting and fishing gear, drives him 100 miles north, and then asks him to consider becoming his adopted son.
"Rather than love, money, fame, or fairness," Alex paraphrases Thoreau in stating his personal creed, "give me truth." His ambition is to measure himself at least once in ancient, primitive conditions. He enters Alaska on a freight train, sends Wayne a postcard from Fairbanks, and gets a ride to the edge of civilization from someone in a pickup truck, who gives Alex a pair of rubber high-water boots, before trekking off on foot into the wild with the intention of living off the land for a few months.
"I love not man but less, but Nature more," the poet Lord Byron wrote. Soon after Alex discovers an abandoned bus in which someone else had earlier used as a shelter, which he names "Magic Bus." For more than a few months he makes it his home, learning "to call each thing by its right name," gradually starving (nearly dying when he mistakes inedible berries for edible ones), until lonely and scared he finally realizes the truth about happiness.
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